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A more dynamic Concordia?

by Milos Kovacevic January 27, 2015
A more dynamic Concordia?

President Shepard: “We have to keep up to speed, whatever that might mean.”

The times, they are a changin’. Concordia’s Academic Plan and Strategic Framework are expiring and the university is seeking to engage the entire community in deciding what comes next.

This is the takeaway message Concordia President Alan Shepard wants the student body to know as he and his administration get set to enact the Strategic Directions drive, the process by which we’ll all be able to chip in with our two cents in an act of participatory community building.

“For me it’s important both in a formal sense that we have a document, and in an informal sense in that it facilitates the conversations. I think we’re having right now and all around the place conversations about where we we want to go, whether we want to go there or not, how do we get there, how much that will cost, and what resources do we need,” said Shepard when asked as to the raison-d’être of the initiative, which isn’t a necessity for universities.

The campaign calls for a short planning timeline of six months so that by June some preliminary points can be sent over to the senate and the Board of Governors for approval. Then will come the time to hear from the faculties and staff for what they foresee their realistic needs and areas for growth can be. Eight groups, organized under headings like experiential learning or innovation and entrepreneurship, will help organize the endeavour.

“We’ll ask those units where they want to go within the framework that’s been established,” said Shepard.

For the rest of the semester a slate of speakers at the forefront of university education will come by and give public, free lectures.

“It’s designed to bring in outside voices, because there’s nothing worse than planning for five to 10 years down the road and [be] talking to only yourself.” Up to 25 academics, intellectuals, and notables will form those outside voices via free public lectures open to all.

One thing the administration seem eager to broadcast is a plan to expand focus on research.

“Universities today cannot be as they once were—almost exclusively teaching institutions— because we will find that if we do that we wouldn’t be providing the faculty with the latest research,” he said. It’s well known that the Federal government takes a positive view to giving grants when there’s research on campus.

Another point of focus will be a pressing need to find space for the Fine Arts faculty, which has had space issues in the past.

Shepard said experiential learning—specifically co-ops and internships—was another point to be discussed. “We will gradually have more online stuff, whether it’ll be whole programs, individual courses, or, more likely, more blended courses.”

When asked what universities Concordia is using as an example, Shepard mentioned Arizona State University—which has catapulted in the last few years into a major research university and is the largest public university by enrollment in the U.S.—as an institution worthy of emulation.

“I think the days when each domain of knowledge was separate, I think those days are waning, both in terms of how knowledge gets organized and what students want and need.”

This may mean a reorganization of programs and the possibility of new classes and programs. Everything is on the table, even increasing revenue from other partners—but how and from whom wasn’t said.

Even though Strategic Visions is getting a fair dose of fanfare, it isn’t meant to be a do-all, end-all.

“It isn’t a detailed plan; it’s not a playbook,” said Shepard.The previous academic plan had scores of recommendations; not this one. “I don’t see us changing our stripes to be something we’re not,” said Shepard, who likened successful universities as those nimble enough to seize opportunities fast, rather than scratching their heads about whether its prescribed on a bullet-point list.

The first lecture as part of the speaker series will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 28, by former University of Wisconsin-Madison and American Council on Education President David Ward. Georgetown University Vice-Provost for Education Randy Bass visits on Feb. 5.

Please visit concordia.ca/about/strategic-directions/events.html for more information.

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